I realize I’m several years late to this particular party, but I have a huge problem with the originally aired final episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. It’s not just that I don’t like what the episode did to the main characters and their relationships; it’s that the final episode undid much of what I liked about the series as a whole.
How I Met Your Mother is the story of five friends and their adventures as the main character, Ted, tries to find Miss Right, as told in retrospect by an older Ted to his children. A lot of the charm of the series is the way it plays with the idea of story-telling and memory: episodes often tell events out of order or literalize old Ted’s slips of memory and half-truths (a person whose name Ted can’t remember is just called Blah-Blah, all flashbacks to college-age characters smoking pot have them eating sandwiches instead, etc.). But beyond this narrative playfulness, one of the things I appreciate most about the series is that it undercuts three of the big toxic tropes about relationships that pervade so much of popular culture. Unfortunately, all three of these tropes are snapped right back into place by the final episode.
At its best, How I Met Your Mother showed that:
1. Women do not exist to serve men’s emotional needs
Robin and Lily, the main female characters of the series, are not just emotional props for the men in their lives but are fully-rounded characters with lives, careers, ambitions, desires, and foibles of their own. The Mother, who finally turns up in the last season, is also a well-developed character with her own quirks, history, and emotional life. Although they all have relationships with men, none of them exists solely to serve the needs of a man’s emotional fulfillment.
In the final episode, however, Lily is largely absent, the Mother—having given Ted the children he wanted but that Robin couldn’t have—swiftly dies of a convenient cancer of the plot, and Ted is finally free to pursue Robin at last, who gamely falls into his arms. From three full and interesting characters, the women of the series are at the end reduced to a nonentity, a plot device, and a cereal-box prize.
2. Men and women can be friends
When Ted and Robin split up after a brief early relationship, they don’t just go their separate ways. After an understandable period of awkwardness and division, they remain part of the same group of friends and develop a comfortable, even intimate friendship. They rely on one another, confide in one another, and look out for each other’s well-being. This is what reasonable people do in the real world. The idea that any relationship between a man and a woman must necessarily lead to either romance or heartbreak has robbed the world of too many potential friendships. How I Met Your Mother showed up this lie for what it is.
Until the final episode, when we discover that Ted and Robin’s friendship was just a holding pattern until they were both ready to fall back into each other’s arms.
3. A relationship doesn’t have to be perfect to be good
In fiction, the conservation of narrative detail usually means that any conflict within a couple is a sign that the relationship is either broken and in need of transformative repair or else fatally flawed and doomed to end badly. How I Met Your Mother avoided this trope by showing us how Lily and Marshal have a good, strong, loving relationship despite their conflicts, upsets, and rough patches, just like most real-world couples. The last few seasons show us how Robin and Barney, despite their own individual problems, grow together into a couple that works.
Then the final episode comes around and the need to release Robin to be scooped up by Ted means that Robin and Barney’s marriage has to come apart at the seams. After several years of the characters figuring out how to make their relationship work, one on-screen argument is enough to break it all to pieces.
As I said, I know I’m far from the first person to gripe about the show’s final episode, but the reason it bothers me so much is because it directly undercuts so much of what was good about the series to begin with. Somehow, good things that end up going bad annoy me more than things that are just bad to begin with.
Images: Robin via Giphy; Robin and Barney via Giphy; Lily via Giphy
In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.
I KNOW! I know, I know, and I KNOW! Urgh. I can’t forgive the writers at all! Freaking…Sorry. I am very passionate about this. It was such a mistake.
I read an interview with one of the writers later, where they downright said, they would have went with a different ending today, so at least they know, how badly recieved it was, but gosh. I cannot see how they could be so blind, and not evolve with the story and characters.
What is a little special about me, maybe, is, that I knew the end before I watched the show. I was late to the party, over an entire year late. I already knew the mother would die, so I was prepared for it.
But despite that, I still felt it was so wrong. Especially since the viewer gets no time to grief the mother’s death. It is a mystery to me, how that end could make it all the way to be aired in the way they wrote it. SO many people involved, and not one would speak up and say, how wrong it is?
What troubled me the most, is that we didn’t even get to see Ted at his “big moments”. Oh, how much forward I was looking to see, when he would welcome his children into the world. Just as an example. But no. It felt so rushed, and so wrong.
And would a memorial for just 20 seconds have been so bad?
It was clear, that the writers had this end in mind all along, and so desperately wanted to pull a “Gotcha, you didn’t expect that, did you!” on the audience, that they completely went against how well the characters had evolved.
And one last thing. The children and their reaction throughout the show.
NO children who have lost their mother, would ever, EVER sit with a “Oh, great…another story about mom…It’s so boring! Are you done soon, dad?” – attitude. Ever.
The writers have said, that a lot of the serie, and a lot of the stories in it, are inspired from their own life. But do they go home to motherless children? No.
So why on earth did they insist for that to happen to Ted, then?
What the hell were they thinking?
I hated it. So wrong. Thanks for bringing this up, Erik, glad I am not the only one who can’t let this go!
LikeLiked by 3 people
Thank you! Yes! Thank you! All of those things bothered me, too! This is what happens when someone’s clever idea becomes more important than the integrity of the story and the experiences of the characters in it.
LikeLiked by 2 people
It’s been 5 years and I’m still mad at how the finale went down. I was really rooting for Ted and the mother, it’s a shame they killed her off.
LikeLiked by 1 person